Are fewer international students enrolling in the U.S. the new normal?
I believe there is enough information, statistics and data to support my iconoclastic opinion that the recent decline in international student enrollment on U.S. colleges and universities in 2017 was not a one-off.
While it is true that colleges and universities in the United States enroll more international students than any other country, it is my hope that anyone reading this blog will realize that for years the U.S. has been losing market share of international students and there is no reason to believe that this will change anytime soon. No one should be shocked or confused by this trend. The U.S. decline of internationally mobile students can be traced back to 2000.
In 2001 there were 2.1 million students enrolled in higher education institutions worldwide. The U.S. enrolled 28 percent of these students. In 2017 4.6 million students studied outside their home countries and the U.S. enrolled 24 percent.
China, which was not even on the top ten list in 2001 now ranks third with 10 percent of international students enrolling in Chinese colleges and universities. In 2016, 70,540 Korean students enrolled on Chinese campuses. The number of Thai students studying in China was 23,044, India 18,11, Indonesia 14,714. The number of American students studying in China in 2016 was 23,838.
Canada, also not on the top ten list in 2001 enrolled 7 percent of all international students. And Russia, not listed in 2001, enrolled 6 percent of all international students in 2017. These statistics reflect a coordinated national policy of these countries to attract and enroll students from all over the world. Students today have options and they are exercising them.
Other countries reporting increasing numbers of international students are: Malaysia, Japan, Australia and Germany.
I believe it is safe to conclude that the competitiveness of the current international student market is not a new phenomenon or simply the result of the 2016 election. I think it is accurate to conclude that several other countries have been doing a very good job of attracting and enrolling international students and making them feel both welcomed and safe.
I think it is accurate to predict that U.S. colleges and universities can no longer take it for granted that they will continue to enroll more international students than any other country. America’s position in the international student marketplace has been attenuated. The biggest challenge of international deans and recruiters is to accept this fact and move forward. More on how to do that in future blogs.
Are fewer international students enrolling in the U.S. the new normal?
Three additional reasons why the United States will continue to lose market share of future international students
In my last blog I listed six reasons why I believe the U.S. will continue to lose market share of future international students. Since that last posting I have three additional reasons I would like to share with you.
Uncertainty over travel bans
Even if the international student market was not as competitive as it is today, the uncertainty of current and future travel bans will negatively impact the enrollment of future international students to the U.S. Students have too many worldwide enrollment options and don’t have to deal with the unpredictability of U.S. government sanctions. The best international enrollment manager following the best international recruitment plan is no match for uncertainty and confusion. While the most prestigious U.S. colleges and universities may not feel the impact of recent government sanctions, less prestigious schools certainly will.
Changes to H-1B visa rules
Currently, H-1B visas are available to a maximum of 65,000 foreign workers for a period of 3 years. “Extreme vetting” requirements, introduced last year, have resulted in an increase of H-1B visa denials. And next month the Department of Homeland Security intends to eliminate the rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa employees to work in the U.S.
Let’s contrast this with China’s recently implemented visa policy. Beginning this year China is issuing long-term visas to attract skilled people to work in China. The multi-entry visas will be valid for a period of 5 to 10 years. Applications may be filed online and are free of charge. Spouses and children will be allowed to accompany the visa holder.
What impact do you think the two contrasting policies will have in the future?
Little or no “soft power” U.S. policies
As the U.S. retreats from the world stage as evidenced by withdrawing from a global climate agreement, renegotiating bilateral trade agreements and eschewing isolationist policies, China has stepped in to fill the power void. It’s “One Belt, One Road” project will propel China’s influence into all corners of the globe. Higher education will not be immune to China’s desire to dominate politically and economically.
The current decline in international student enrollment on U.S. colleges and universities is not, in my opinion, a one-off. First, international enrollment managers must acknowledge and validate this fact and second, design new strategies to meet the headwinds of change.
- Christmas background snowflakes with lights vector illustration
As has been my custom over the past five years, this end-of-the-year blog will contain no statistics or data supporting or disproving assumptions about the changing face of international student recruitment and enrollment. I will not share with you my thoughts on the impact of the Brexit referendum in Britain or the impact of the Trump election on future international student enrollments.
In the next year, my book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, will be published and in that publication I will share with you why I believe major shifts are already in place for where international students will enroll in the future and how international deans and recruiters will recruit international students in the future.
For now, all I wish to do in this posting is to wish you and your family and your colleagues health and happiness in 2018.
The demand for higher education in South and East Asia has exploded. According to a World Education Services report, in 2015 Asian countries sent an estimated 2.3 million students abroad for study. With a population of more than 620 million under the age of 18, $226 trillion combined economy and the fastest growing middle class in the world, South Asia is poised to become a major economic player in the future. The 10 ASEAN countries are projected to become the 5th largest economic bloc by 2020.
More than 300 million students are enrolled in higher education in South Asia and the unmet need is estimated to be 3 to 4 times that number. The governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia have made higher education a priority and have invested heavily in higher education initiatives.
In March, 2016, the ASEAN-Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025 was launched. The goals are to promote innovation in higher education and encourage the free flow of ideas, knowledge, expertize and skills within the region. The architects of the blueprint hope that it will strengthen regional and global cooperation by enhancing the quality of competitiveness of higher education institutions across ASEAN.
The year 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. One of the major accomplishments of ASEAN has been the harmonization of member states’ education systems and increased collaboration among universities in the region.
In April, 2017 the Asian Universities Alliance was created to facilitate the creation of a platform facilitating exchange programs as well as joint research projects.
Collaborations between institutions in the region include: Malaysia’s Al Bikhary International University and Turkey’s Ibn Haldun University, National Taiwan University and Vietnam National University and Southern Taiwan Universities Alliance and several universities in the Philippines.
No doubt these are ambitious regional goals. I am not suggesting that past and current strongholds of international student enrollments will immediately decrease or disappear. But I am suggesting that several political, economic and sociological trends suggest that over time, there will be an increased shift in regional enrollments from the west to the east.
Although all of the fall, 2017 international student enrollment reports are not known and although no one has a crystal ball, I think it is safe to write an article about the clear enrollment winners and losers for the fall semester.
Clearly countries like Canada and Australia enrolled an increasing number of international students. Clearly the impact of Brexit and the Trump election has affected the decreased number of international students enrolling in those two countries.
Clearly the pivot to Asia has happened with China and other countries in Asia and Southeast Asia enrolling increased number of international and study abroad students for this semester.
Clearly the “new” international student, the digital student, will increase the number of international student enrollments but in a different way. Digital students, especially in Africa, will enroll in international courses but they may never leave their home countries.
Clearly the impact of nationalism, especially in several countries in eastern Europe, will impact the migration of students from those countries to other parts of the world.
Clearly it is no longer possible to write and implement international strategic recruitment plans without researching the economic, political and societal trends taking place in countries of recruitment.
Clearly it is time to change the way international deans and recruiters plan for future international student enrollments.
I have spent the past three years researching and studying the way international student trends are changing. Some of the changes are subtle, like the dynamic “soft power” higher education initiatives of China in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Others are not so subtle. No longer can we separate where international students study and the Brexit vote or Trump election. Both events have, and will continue to impact, the enrollments of international students not just in this year but for years to come.
More predictions to come.